Jeeves on the cover of My Man Jeeves (1920)
|First appearance||1915, in the story "Extricating Young Gussie"|
|Last appearance||1974, in the novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen|
|Created by||P. G. Wodehouse|
|Portrayed by||Arthur Treacher (1936-37),
Dennis Price (1965),
Stephen Fry (1990–93),
|Occupation||Valet of Bertie Wooster|
|Relatives||Charlie Silversmith (uncle), and more|
Reginald Jeeves is a fictional character in a series of humorous short stories and novels by P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), being the highly-competent valet of a wealthy and idle young Londoner named Bertie Wooster. Created in 1915, Jeeves continued to appear in Wodehouse's work until his last completed novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen in 1974, a span of 59 years. The name "Jeeves" comes from Percy Jeeves (1888–1916), a Warwickshire cricketer killed in the First World War.
Both the name "Jeeves" and the character of Jeeves have come to be thought of as the quintessential name and nature of a valet or butler, inspiring many similar characters (as well as the name of the Internet search engine Ask Jeeves). A "Jeeves" is now a generic term in references such as the Oxford English Dictionary.
In a conversation with a policeman in "Jeeves and the Kid Clementina", Jeeves refers to himself as both a "gentleman's personal gentleman" and a "personal gentleman's gentleman." This means that Jeeves is a valet, not a butler—that is, he serves a man and not a household. However, Bertie Wooster has lent out Jeeves as a butler on several occasions, and notes: "If the call comes, he can buttle with the best of them."
The premise of the Jeeves stories is that the brilliant valet is firmly in control of his rich and foppish young employer's life. Jeeves becomes Bertie Wooster's protector and all-purpose problem solver, devising subtle plans to rescue Bertie and his friends from tiresome social obligations, demanding relatives, brushes with the law, and, above all, problems involving women. Wodehouse derives much comic effect from having Bertie, his narrator, remain blissfully unaware of Jeeves's machinations, until all is revealed at the end of the story.
Jeeves presents the ideal image of the gentlemanly manservant, always impeccably dressed, gliding silently in and out of rooms, and speaking mainly when spoken to (most often replying "Yes, sir" or "No, sir"). His mental prowess is attributed to eating fish, according to Wooster, who often offers the dish to Jeeves. Jeeves supplements his brain power by relaxing with "improving" books, such as the complete works of Spinoza, or "Dostoyevsky and the great Russians". He frequently quotes from Shakespeare and the romantic poets. In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of literature and academic subjects, he is also a "bit of a whiz" in all matters pertaining to horse racing, car maintenance, drink preparation (especially hangover remedies), etiquette, and the ways of women. Perhaps his most impressive and useful area of expertise is a flawless knowledge of the British aristocracy.
Jeeves has distinct ideas about how an English gentleman should dress and behave, and sees it as his duty to impart these values to his employer. When friction arises between Jeeves and Bertie, it is usually over some new item about which Wooster is enthusiastic, such as a garish vase, a moustache, monogrammed handkerchiefs, a straw boater, an alpine hat, a scarlet cummerbund, spats in the Eton colours, a white dinner jacket, or purple socks. Wooster's decision to take up playing the banjolele in Thank You, Jeeves almost led to a permanent rift between the two. Jeeves's problem-solving ability often includes a discreet means to dispose of the offending item.
Jeeves is a member of the Junior Ganymede Club, a London club for butlers and valets. In the club book, all members must record the foibles of their employers to forewarn other butlers and valets. The section labelled "Wooster, Bertram" is the largest in the book. In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit it contained "eleven pages", and by Much Obliged, Jeeves it has grown to eighteen pages. However, at the end of Much Obliged, Jeeves, Jeeves informs Wooster that he has destroyed the eighteen pages, anticipating that he will never leave the latter's employment.
Jeeves's first name of Reginald was not revealed for 56 years, until the penultimate novel in the series, Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971), when Wooster hears another valet greet Jeeves with "Hullo, Reggie." The readers may have been surprised to learn Jeeves's first name, but Wooster was stunned by the revelation "that he had a first name" in the first place. Only once in the Wodehouse canon does Jeeves appear without Wooster: Ring for Jeeves (1953), in which he is on loan to the 9th Earl of Rowcester. The novel was adapted from Wodehouse's play Come On, Jeeves, which Wodehouse felt needed a more conventional ending, although he was unwilling to marry Wooster off.
Richard Usborne, a leading scholar of the life and works of Wodehouse, describes Jeeves as a "godlike prime mover" and "master brain who is found to have engineered the apparent coincidence or coincidences".
Inspiration and influence
The concept which eventually became Jeeves preceded the Wooster character in Wodehouse's imagination: he had long considered the idea of a butler—later a valet—who could solve any problem. A character named Reggie Pepper, who was very much like Wooster but without Jeeves, was the protagonist of seven short stories. Wodehouse decided to rewrite the Pepper stories, switching Reggie's character to Bertie Wooster and combining him with an ingenious valet.
Jeeves and Bertie first appeared in "Extricating Young Gussie", a short story published in September 1915, in which Jeeves's character is minor and not fully developed and Bertie's surname appears to be Mannering-Phipps. The first fully recognisable Jeeves and Wooster story was "The Artistic Career of Corky", published in early 1916. As the series progressed, Jeeves assumed the role of Wooster's co-protagonist; indeed, their meeting was told in November 1916 in "Jeeves Takes Charge".
In his 1953 semi-autobiographical book written with Guy Bolton, Bring on the Girls!, Wodehouse suggests that the Jeeves character was based on an actual butler named Eugene Robinson whom Wodehouse employed for research purposes. He recounts a story where Robinson extricated Wodehouse from a real-life predicament. Wodehouse also recounts that he named his Jeeves after Percy Jeeves (1888–1916), a popular English cricketer for Warwickshire. Wodehouse witnessed Percy Jeeves bowling at Cheltenham Cricket Festival in 1913. Percy Jeeves was killed at the Battle of the Somme during the attack on High Wood in July 1916, less than a year after the first appearance of the Wodehouse character who would make his name a household word.
Jeeves' propensity for wisdom and knowledge is so well known that it inspired the name of an Internet search website, AskJeeves (from 1996; renamed Ask.com in 2006). In the twenty-first century, a "Jeeves" is a generic term (in the fashion of "a Jonah") for any useful and reliable person, found in dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary or the Encarta World English Dictionary. The term has also been used in World of Warcraft, where an engineering character may construct a "Jeeves" robot to repair equipment.
Personal history and family
Jeeves's first job was as a page boy at a girls' school, after which he worked at John Lewis and then had at least eleven other employers. Before entering the employ of Wooster, he was with Lord Worplesdon, resigning after nearly a year because of Worplesdon's eccentric choice of evening dress; Mr Digby Thistleton (later Lord Bridgnorth), who sold hair tonic; Mr Montague Todd, a financier who was in the second year of a prison term when Jeeves mentioned him to Wooster; Lord Brancaster, who gave port-soaked seedcake to his pet parrot; and Lord Frederick Ranelagh, swindled in Monte Carlo by recurring antagonist Soapy Sid. His tenure with Wooster had occasional lapses, during which he was employed elsewhere: he worked for Lord Rowcester for the length of Ring for Jeeves; Marmaduke "Chuffy" Chuffnell for a week in Thank You, Jeeves, after giving notice because of Wooster's unwillingness to give up the banjolele; J. Washburn Stoker for a short period; Gussie Fink-Nottle, who masqueraded as Wooster in The Mating Season; and Sir Watkyn Bassett as a trick to get Wooster released from prison in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.
Jeeves has three aunts who, he informs Wooster, are very placid in nature, in contrast to Wooster's aunts. One of Jeeves's aunts is resident in the vicinity of Maiden Eggesford and owns a cat, which features in Aunts Aren't Gentlemen. In Right Ho, Jeeves he refers to his Aunt Annie: "in times of domestic disagreement it was necessary only to invite my Aunt Annie for a visit to heal all breaches between the other members of the household." The third aunt had varicose veins in her legs that were hideous to view, though improved to such a great extent by a patent medicine that she allowed them to be photographed for an advertisement for the product.
Jeeves also has an uncle, Charlie Silversmith, who is butler at Deverill Hall in Hampshire. Jeeves also mentions his late uncle Cyril in Right Ho, Jeeves. In The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy, we learn he also has a niece named Mabel, who falls in love with Charles Edward "Biffy" Biffen during an ocean voyage.
The Jeeves "canon" consists of 35 short stories and 11 novels. With minor exceptions, the short stories were written and published first (between 1915 and 1930); the novels later (between 1934 and 1974).
Wooster narrates (in the first person) all the stories but two, "Bertie Changes His Mind" (which Jeeves himself narrates in the first person), and Ring for Jeeves (which features Jeeves but not Wooster and is written in the third person). The stories are set in three primary locations: London, where Wooster has a flat and is a member of the raucous Drones Club; various stately homes in the English countryside, most commonly Totleigh Towers or Brinkley Court; or New York City and a few other locations in the United States. All take place in a timeless world based on an idealised vision of England before World War II. Only Ring for Jeeves mentions World War II.
Most of the Jeeves stories were originally published as magazine pieces before being collected into books, although 11 of the short stories were reworked and divided into 18 chapters to make an episodic semi-novel called The Inimitable Jeeves. Other collections, most notably The World of Jeeves, restore these to their original form of 11 distinct stories.
- The Man with Two Left Feet (1917)—One story in a book of thirteen
- "Extricating Young Gussie"—The first appearances of Jeeves and Bertie, originally published 1915.
- (My Man Jeeves (1919)—Four stories in a book of eight, all four reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves. The non-Jeeves stories feature Reggie Pepper.)
- ("Leave It to Jeeves", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves as "The Artistic Career of Corky"), originally published 1916.
- ("Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves), originally published 1916.
- ("Jeeves and the Hard-boiled Egg", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves), originally published 1917.
- ("The Aunt and the Sluggard", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves), originally published 1916.
- The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)—A semi-novel consisting of eighteen chapters, originally published as eleven short stories (some of which were split for the book):
- "Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum" with "No Wedding Bells for Bingo" (together "Jeeves in the Springtime", originally published 1921)
- "Aunt Agatha Speaks Her Mind" with "Pearls Mean Tears" (together "Aunt Agatha Takes the Count", originally published 1922, revised for TIJ.)
- "The Pride of the Woosters Is Wounded" with "The Hero's Reward" (together "Scoring Off Jeeves", originally published 1922.)
- "Introducing Claude and Eustace" with "Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch" (together "Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch", originally published 1922.)
- "A Letter of Introduction" with "Startling Dressiness of a Lift Attendant" (together "Jeeves and the Chump Cyril", originally published 1918.)
- "Comrade Bingo" with "Bingo Has a Bad Goodwood" (together "Comrade Bingo", originally published 1922.)
- "The Great Sermon Handicap", originally published 1922.
- "The Purity of the Turf", originally published 1922.
- "The Metropolitan Touch", originally published 1922.
- "The Delayed Exit of Claude and Eustace", originally published 1922.
- "Bingo and the Little Woman" with "All's Well" (together "Bingo and the Little Woman", originally published 1922.)
- Carry on, Jeeves (1925)—Ten stories:
- "Jeeves Takes Charge" – Recounts the first meeting of Jeeves and Wooster, originally published 1916.
- "The Artistic Career of Corky", a rewrite of "Leave It to Jeeves", originally published in My Man Jeeves
- "Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest", originally published in My Man Jeeves
- "Jeeves and the Hard-boiled Egg", originally published in My Man Jeeves
- "The Aunt and the Sluggard", originally published in My Man Jeeves
- "The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy", originally published 1924.
- "Without the Option", originally published 1925.
- "Fixing It for Freddie", a rewrite of a Reggie Pepper story, "Helping Freddie", originally published in My Man Jeeves
- "Clustering Round Young Bingo"
- "Bertie Changes His Mind"—The only story in the canon narrated by Jeeves, originally published 1922.
- Very Good, Jeeves (1930)—Eleven stories:
- "Jeeves and the Impending Doom", originally published 1926.
- "The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy", originally published 1926.
- "Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit" (US title: Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit), originally published 1927.
- "Jeeves and the Song of Songs", originally published 1929.
- "Episode of the Dog McIntosh" (US title: Jeeves and the Dog McIntosh), originally published 1929.
- "The Spot of Art" (US title: Jeeves and the Spot of Art), originally published 1929.
- "Jeeves and the Kid Clementina", originally published 1930.
- "The Love That Purifies" (US title: Jeeves and the Love That Purifies), originally published 1929.
- "Jeeves and the Old School Chum", originally published 1930.
- "The Indian Summer of an Uncle", originally published 1930.
- "The Ordeal of Young Tuppy" (US title: Tuppy Changes His Mind), originally published 1930.
- Thank You, Jeeves (1934)—The first full-length Jeeves novel
- Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) (US title: Brinkley Manor)
- The Code of the Woosters (1938)
- Joy in the Morning (1946) (US title: Jeeves in the Morning)
- The Mating Season (1949)
- (Come On, Jeeves—1952 play with Guy Bolton, adapted 1953 into Ring for Jeeves, produced 1954, published 1956)
- Ring for Jeeves (1953)—Only Jeeves novel without Wooster (US title: The Return of Jeeves), adapting the play Come On, Jeeves
- Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954) (US title: Bertie Wooster Sees It Through)
- A Few Quick Ones (1959)—One short story in a book of ten
- "Jeeves Makes an Omelette", a rewrite of a Reggie Pepper story originally published in My Man Jeeves
- Jeeves in the Offing (1960) (US title: How Right You Are, Jeeves)
- Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963)
- Plum Pie (1966)—One short story in a book of nine
- "Jeeves and the Greasy Bird"
- Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971) (US title: Jeeves and the Tie That Binds)
- Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (1974) (US title: The Cat-nappers)
The collection The World of Jeeves (first published in 1967, reprinted in 1988) contains all of the Jeeves short stories (with the exception of "Extricating Young Gussie") presented more or less in narrative chronological order. An efficient method of reading the entire Jeeves canon is to read The World of Jeeves followed by the eleven novels in order of publication. The novels share a certain amount of sequential narrative development between them, and the later novels are essentially sequels to the earlier ones.
British novelist Sebastian Faulks became the first writer authorized by the Wodehouse estate to produce a new fiction utilizing the Jeeves and Wooster characters. Faulks's Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was published in November, 2013.
By chronological order on the first item of each sub-section:
A few theatrical films have appeared based upon or inspired by Wodehouse's novels:
- Thank You, Jeeves! (1936)—Arthur Treacher as Jeeves, and David Niven as Wooster, meet a girl and help her brother stop two spies trying to get his secret plans. The film has almost nothing to do with the book of that title. Treacher was associated with butler and manservant roles, having played such parts in several previous films, including the Shirley Temple film Curly Top (1935). In this case, however, the script called on him to play the character as unhelpful and rather unpleasant, with none of the trademark brilliance of the literary Jeeves.
- Step Lively, Jeeves! (1937)—Two swindlers con Arthur Treacher as Jeeves, claiming he has a fortune waiting for him in America, where Jeeves meets some gangsters. Wooster does not appear, Jeeves is portrayed as a naive bumbler, and the film has nothing to do with any Wodehouse story.
- By Jeeves (2001)—A recorded performance of the musical, released as a video (with UK Martin Jarvis as Jeeves and US John Scherer as Wooster). It also aired on television.
- Come On, Jeeves (opened 1954, still presented from time to time as of 2008[update] under its name or as Ring for Jeeves)—A 1952 play by Guy Bolton and Wodehouse (adapted into the 1953 novel Ring for Jeeves), opened 1954 in Worthing, England (cast unknown), published in 1956.
- Jeeves was a 1958 LP record issued by Caedmon with Terry-Thomas as Bertie Wooster and Roger Livesey as Jeeves. Side one was the story "Indian Summer of an Uncle"; side two was "Jeeves Takes Charge". The album was re-released on Harper Audio in 1989.
- The World of Wooster (30 May 1965 to 17 November 1967, 20 episodes of 30 minutes)—A half-hour comedy series for BBC1 (with Dennis Price as Jeeves, and Ian Carmichael as Wooster, plus Derek Nimmo playing Bingo Little).
- Jeeves and Wooster (22 April 1990 to 20 June 1993, 23 episodes of 55 minutes)—A hit ITV series starring double-act Fry and Laurie (with Stephen Fry as Jeeves, and Hugh Laurie as Wooster).
- Jeeves (22 April 1975 to 24 May 1975, 38 performances)—An unsuccessful musical loosely based on Wodehouse, opened in London (with Michael Aldridge as Jeeves, and David Hemmings as Wooster). Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics & Book by Alan Ayckbourn and based on the Wodehouse book: "Code of The Woosters."
- By Jeeves (1 May 1996 to 12 February 1997; 28 October 2001 to 30 December 2001, 73 performances)—A more successful complete rewrite of the earlier version, opened in London (with Malcolm Sinclair as Jeeves, and Steven Pacey as Wooster), and premiered in the U.S. in November 1996 (with Richard Kline as Jeeves, and John Scherer as Wooster). It was produced again in 2001 on Broadway (with Martin Jarvis as Jeeves, and Scherer as Wooster), with one recorded performance released as a video film and aired on TV.
- What Ho, Jeeves! (1972 to 1981)—A popular BBC Radio 4 series adapting various Jeeves stories (with Michael Hordern as Jeeves, and Richard Briers as Wooster).
- The Code of the Woosters (2006)—A BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of The Code of the Woosters (with Andrew Sachs as Jeeves, and Marcus Brigstocke as Wooster).
- In Alan Moore's comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Jeeves appears in the segment "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss?" in which he contacts the League through a cousin in the British Museum to help combat the arrival of a Mi-go to Brinkley Court and Wooster's Aunt Dahlia's possession by Cthulhu. The Lovecraftian menaces are driven off by a League consisting of Mina Murray, Allan Quatermain, Carnacki, and Orlando.
A fictional biography of Jeeves, entitled Jeeves: A Gentleman's Personal Gentleman by Northcote Parkinson, fills in a great deal of background information about him.
Also, both Jeeves and Bertie Wooster make cameo appearances in Spider Robinson's Lady Slings the Booze.
- List of characters in the Jeeves stories
- List of fictional butlers, also including once-butler valets such as Jeeves
- Main primary sources consulted
All Jeeves books are relevant, but many key points are sourced from: Carry on, Jeeves (1925, first meeting, poaching Anatole); Ring for Jeeves (1953, butler, WW2); Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954, great Russians, eleven pages section); Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971, eighteen pages section, Reginald).
- Secondary sources consulted
- Kuzmenko, Michel (The Russian Wodehouse Society) (2007-03-22). "Wodehouse books". Bibliography. Retrieved 2007-08-15.
- Reggie (2007-03-16). "Wodehouse Who's Who: Jeeves". Blandings, a Companion to the Works of P. G. Wodehouse.
- Ross, Robert (2002). The Complete Terry-Thomas. London: Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 978-1-90311-129-1.
- Usborne, Richard (2003). Plum Sauce: A P. G. Wodehouse Companion. New York: The Overlook Press. pp. 81–93, 187. ISBN 1-58567-441-9.
- Wodehouse, P. G. (1963). Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-7432-0410-7.
- Menon, Suresh. "The other Plum" Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". Oed.com. Retrieved 2013-09-15.
- Very Good, Jeeves, 1930.
- Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, 1963.
- « "My personal tastes lie more in the direction of Dostoyevsky and the great Russians." » (Jeeves, in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, chapter four.)
- In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, chapter four.
- "'[...] As a rule, a few lines suffice. Your eighteen pages are quite exceptional.'
'Eighteen? I thought it was eleven.'
'You are omitting to take into your calculations the report of your misadventures at Totleigh Towers [...]'."
- —Jeeves and Wooster, in Much Obliged, Jeeves, chapter one.
- "'Hullo, Reggie,' he said, and I froze in my chair, stunned by the revelation that Jeeves's first name was Reginald. It had never occurred to me before that he had a first name." (Wooster about Bingley greeting Jeeves, in Much Obliged, Jeeves, chapter four.)
- In the 1937 film Step Lively, Jeeves, Jeeves, portrayed by Arthur Treacher, states his first name to be Rupert. However, Wodehouse had nothing to do with the script of that film, and Treacher's Jeeves character is so unlike Wodehouse's Jeeves that the viewer could easily believe him to be a different Jeeves altogether.
- Wodehouse at Work to the End, Richard Usborne 1976.
- "The most invaluable nugget contained in the book [Wodehouse at the Wicket by P. G. Wodehouse and Murray Hedgcock] traces the origin of the name Jeeves to Percy Jeeves, a Warwickshire professional cricketer known for his impeccable grooming, smart shirts and spotlessly clean flannels. Wodehouse probably saw him take a couple of smooth, effortless catches in a match between Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. The name, the immaculate appearance and silent efficiency stuck and the inimitable manservant appeared first in 1916, just weeks after the original Percy Jeeves died in the war in France." Navtej Sarna (June 3, 2012). "Of Lords, aunts and pigs". The Hindu Literary Review.
- Ring, Tony (c. 2000). "Jeeves and Wooster March Into The Twenty-first Century". Wodehouse.ru. Retrieved 2007-08-15.
The frequency with which the term 'Jeeves' is used without further explanation in the media of today, and its inclusion as a generic term in the Oxford English Dictionary, suggests that P G Wodehouse's Jeeves, together with his principal employer Bertie Wooster, remain the most popular of his many enduring characters.
- Encarta World English Dictionary (2007). "Jeeves". Encarta.msn.com. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-08-15.
Jeeves [ jeevz ], noun - Definition: resourceful helper: a useful and reliable person who provides ready solutions to problems ( informal ) [Mid-20th century. < a character in the novels of P. G. Wodehouse]
- "Jeeves - WoWWiki - Your guide to the World of Warcraft". WoWWiki. 2009-08-04. Retrieved 2013-09-15.
- Taves, Brian (2006). P. G. Wodehouse and Hollywood. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2288-2.
- Ross 2002, pp. 44-45.
- "P G Wodehouse's The World of Wooster". British Film Institute. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
- Parkinson, C. Northcote (1981) . Jeeves: A Gentleman's Personal Gentleman (U.S. ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-44144-4.—Mock biography of Jeeves.
- Television adaptations
- BBC's World of Wooster (March 2007 Archive.org cache) at the BBC Comedy Guide (down)
- ITV's Jeeves and Wooster (March 2007 Archive.org cache) at the BBC Comedy Guide